Sal's Enlightenment In Mexico In Jack Kerouac's, On The Road

3006 words - 12 pages

In A Mexico Fellaheen from Lonesome Traveler, Jack Kerouac describes crossing the border between America and Mexico: "It's a great feeling of entering the Pure Land, especially because it's so close to dry faced Arizona and Texas and all over the Southwest B but you can find it, this feeling, this fellaheen feeling about life, that timeless gayety of people not involved in great cultural and civilization issues" (22). Mexico is at once "close to" America and yet distinct from it, a "Pure Land" removed from the fallout of Spengler's crumbling Western civilization. By acknowledging its primitive innocence, Kerouac calls attention to the difference between the ideal of freedom and pastoral harmony represented by Mexico and the reality of contemporary America. But more significantly, Kerouac describes later in the article the inherent contradictions of Mexico: in his experience with easily-accessible drugs, corrupt police, and fumbling novice bull-fighting, he also finds a profoundly religious people, and he is able to accept them without judgement as a complex mix of good and bad. As he says in that article, "I saw how everybody dies and nobody's going to care, I felt how awful it is to live just so you can die like a bull trapped in a screaming human ring" (33), but he ends with the understanding that "the world is permeated with roses of happiness all the time, but none of us know it. The happiness consists in realizing that it is all a great strange dream" (36).

This vision of Mexico as a "Pure Land" with innate contradictions and complexity also appears in Kerouac's On the Road. In the final sections, Sal and Dean travel to Mexico City, but while Dean goes for kicks and to obtain a quick divorce, Sal goes for a different reason. From the beginning of the novel, Sal has felt spiritually emptied out, and he goes to Mexico partly to search for regeneration. In Mexico, the hot climate, the drugs, and the fiery fever Sal contracts allow him to attain a measure of spirituality by purifying or essentially burning away what blurs his vision. He becomes able to see with a clarity of perception that evokes Emerson in its spirituality: "all egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God" (1075).

Sal's recovered ability to "see all" purely, transparently, allows him to understand and accept the contradictions and complexity that he finds in Mexico, and subsequently, he is able to understand and accept what he calls "the impossible complexity" (303) of Dean's life. Once he can accept Dean with all his faults as "a new kind of American saint" (39), he is in a better position to understand America itself and to accept the complexity of the country's postwar condition with its nuclear and communist paranoia, and its rampant consumerism.

The novel seems to suggest that, if individuals could be made aware of their own spirituality, and...

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